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Thomas: Thanksgiving surprise

The first time I lived in this valley, I had three different places. The first one — Avon Crossing beside Burger King, where I think Arn Menconi was my property manager, but I didn’t meet him until later — didn’t last long.

My housemate was a big hockey player from Chicago. He told  a story that Nate, my current boss, used to find hilarious when I retold it: His tradition before all of his college games was to listen to “Mother” by Danzig, barf in a trash can, and then his dad would pop him in the face good once before he went out onto the ice. In the no-check Vail leagues, he’d lace ‘em up and smash other dudes into the boards at Dobson. After he showed me his gun collection, I moved out. 

My second place, a downstairs lockoff on Chamonix Lane, was much better, but I was only there for a year before I moved into Vail Trail employee housing in SunRiver for some reason I can no longer fathom. As a dude with a bachelor’s in economics, I should have always known better than embracing neofeudalism. And yet 20 years later, here I am back in employee housing in EagleVail.

I lived with two other Vail Trail employees, Tim Sweeney from Boston and Ed Lammon the Alabaman. I can’t remember if it was the unit on the east end of the building or the next one over, but I do remember trying to climb the tree and swing onto the balcony one night when Ed locked me out, and I can still see it from the highway. It was an interesting place, a chunk of ’70s funk at the end of the millennium in Eagle-Vail: That balcony was really a sort of solarium, with a sliding glass door and indoor plants, and the lone bathroom had both lurid maroon-orange shag carpeting and a sauna which we never really found a consistent use for.

Despite all my moves, I was only 24 when I lived there, and so it was my third Thanksgiving away from my mom and dad in Virginia. That year, I had to work for some reason — maybe that was when the Vail Trail added its five-day daily, so it was busier because keeping up with the three-man Vail Daily sports department became my responsibility.

I think I was covering something that day, and I was thankful for the office potluck, a free hot meal — turkey, mashers, green bean casserole — when I got back in out of the cold. I think we managed to get off early that day for a sort of little Thanksgiving party, which I went to with our production manager Eric, Ed, his sister and her friend who were visiting from Alabama. It was a pretty low-key evening.

And then I got my Thanksgiving surprise at 2 in the morning. I don’t remember any sense of unease beforehand, just the explosive need to get to that carpeted bathroom as quickly as possible. My room was originally a study with its own little balcony overlooking the highway, so I had to navigate the living room and a tight right toward Tim’s and Ed’s rooms and the bathroom. Ed’s sister and her friend were asleep in the living room, and I had to jump over at least one of them on every sprint through the apartment: hurdle, hurl, repeat.

I’ll spare you the gnarlier details, but suffice it to say that two decades later, I still can’t face down a green bean casserole.

And then Ed got his own Thanksgiving surprise, so my ptomaine pentathlon became half of a choreographed dance routine with my housemate to alternate bathroom visits. We were thankful that Sweeney was away for Thanksgiving that year.

Mercifully, I had a couple of hours to myself in the bathroom, and I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep wrapped around the toilet, under the beach towel I kept there to use for the sauna, thankful for that hideous shag carpet — but it was a gratitude that faded when I had to clean the bathroom the next morning. I don’t remember much about that Friday except calling the office. I barely had time to say hello.

“Let me guess: You’re not coming to work today,” the receptionist said. “You’re the twelfth person to call in.”

Surprise.

It became something of a legend, or at least a joke, among us who survived that fateful holiday and ultimately made it longer than the Trail. My friend Tara Flanagan, who got her Thanksgiving surprise halfway up to Red Cliff, used to circulate an email every Thanksgiving warning about cooking a turkey properly, with the subject line “BACTERIA EXPLOSION!” 

The next year, I was in Tahoe, with the memories of the previous year’s surprise relatively fresh in my mind and other organs, so I decided to leave that Thanksgiving to the professionals: Far from home, I had a late holiday lunch with the Tahoe Tribune’s production manager at one of the casinos in Stateline. Either there was no Turkey Day potluck for the skeleton crew working the holiday or I skipped it: another surprise.

So I wasn’t there for what happened that next Thanksgiving in EagleVail, but I did hear at least one story: The publisher’s daughter, who cooked the turkey the previous year, presented the managing editor and his wife — who had a newborn then — with another Thanksgiving surprise, a casserole. And as soon as she left the office, he turned on his heel and dumped the whole thing in the trash, dish and all.

And that was how I learned the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Dan Thomas is the copy desk chief at the Vail Daily, a former sportswriter for the Vail Trail and a master’s degree candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Denver. His email address is dthomas@vaildaily.com.


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